In our continued journey exploring the 2018 Green Bay Packers roster, we have moved to the defensive side of the ball. Last week I wrote about the importance of the edge rushers, and this week we’ll take a look at the men in the middle of the defense.
While ILB was largely overlooked this offseason, they will be the players tasked to stop the run and cover TEs and RBs in passing situations. The loss of Morgan Burnett also puts increased pressure on finding an ILB who can cover.
Martinez had a very solid Sophomore campaign. There have been a lot of comparisons to AJ Hawk, in that Blake is a tackling machine who lacks the explosiveness to stay with most playmakers in the pass game. His leadership and ability to stop the run will be crucial to getting Mike Pettine’s playmakers chances on 3rd and long.
Ryan is the kind of solid player you want as a 3rd or 4th ILB. He is assignment-sure and makes tackles when he gets to the play. He’ll be asked to make plays in the run game, but shouldn’t see the field in any passing situations.
Burks is the pick few fans seem to be talking about, but he represents the modern hybrid Linebacker who can run with TEs and RBs. He’s a former Safety, and that speed, agility, and coverage ability shows on his tape. He’s a highly intelligent player and shows the type of character to make him a future leader in the locker room. I don’t think he can be counted on to stop the run right now, but he’s an immediate upgrade over Joe Thomas as the nickel and dime LB.
CJ Johnson is an undrafted small school player, but he has the athletic traits to be a NFL Linebacker. I really like his instinctiveness and toughness. Like all young players he’ll have to prove himself on Special Teams to make the roster, but I give him the early edge to make the 53 because of his ability against both the run and the pass.
Porter is an undersized, (and another) small school prospect, but his tape shows tremendous burst to the ball and he is an absolute thumper. He’ll be a major force on Special Teams, and will be a favorite for a spot on the Practice Squad. Paris Bennett was a tackling machine at Syracuse. He’s small and will struggle in coverage, but he also could be a future Special Teams ace, which would be his avenue to the active roster.
Martini played at Notre Dame and has the traits you would expect from a Fighting Irish LB (tough, instinctive, assignment-sound), but he is lacking in the athletic traits that Burks, Johnson, and Porter possess. I think he’s redundant with Martinez and Jake Ryan on the roster, but I’m sure the coaches will love Martini’s ability to adjust to the pro game. Thomas was a Safety at Oklahoma and will try to make a position change, in addition to the adjustment to the pro game. He’s added some bulk, but still lacks the size and strength to play the run. He’d be a coverage specialist and is a really good Special Teams player. His path to the active roster would be very steep.
While all the attention is on Cornerback and Edge Rusher, Inside Linebacker has been a weakness on the defense for several years and Green Bay didn’t have enough resources to adequately make changes in personnel. Mike Pettine’s ability to get the most from this group will go a long ways in the Packers’ pursuit of another Lombardi Trophy.
Andrew Mertig is a a lifelong Packers fan and draft enthusiast. He has covered the NFL draft for radio and television stations in Green Bay. He is currently a host of the Pack-A-Day podcast and a writer for PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewmertig